Minot, N.D. ( TheStreet) -- Oil and gas exploration company Continental Resources (CLR - Get Report) has the biggest footprint and is the leading oil producer in the booming Bakken Shale basin of North Dakota, an advantage in a market of seesawing prices.
What's more, its technological expertise in so-called unconventional drilling processes that it has honed here should prove invaluable elsewhere. There are several other known, but still untapped, areas with similar geology as the Bakken throughout North America, Mexico and in Russia's Siberia where Continental's expertise could open vast new resources.
And that would make the firm, whose value is $32 billion, attractive not only for its future exploration and production work, but also as an acquisition target for a much bigger firm.Continental's shares are on a strong run, gaining almost 10% in the past three months, which is about what they're up for the year, versus the S&P 500's 14% increase. Its shares have a three-year average annual return of 26% and a five-year annualized return of 37%, which means that $10,000 invested five years ago would be worth about $47,716 today. Continental's current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is 16, in line with the S&P 500's, while its forward P/E is 15.2. Continental is the largest leaseholder in the Bakken, which stretches 8 million acres over North Dakota and Montana, as the owner of drilling rights to almost 1 million acres. It is also the most active operator here with 76 exploratory rigs at work as of the end of June, out of the total of about 209 of all companies in the field. There are a total of about 7,000 active wells in the Bakken region, that is, wells owned by all companies that have been drilled and are in production. Many are producing oil so freely that they don't need pumpjacks, which are in use in most traditional oil fields, helping keep operating costs low. The state says the pace is for about 2,250 new wells drilled by all the exploration firms here in western North Dakota's Bakken region.